Sometimes in our zeal to express the contemporary implications of “The Great Commission” we inadvertently miss the equally significant implications of the “First Great Commission”. It was here, during this first commission by Christ that His disciples were taught the basics for their later Great Commission from Matthew 28. In chapter 6 of Mark’s Gospel we read of the account of Christ’s first sending out of His disciples on what might best be described as a short-term mission. It’s here we see Him giving them authority and their transition from disciples (learners) to apostles (sent out).
“7 And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.8 He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts—9 but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics.10 And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. 11 And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent.13 And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.” Mark 6:7-13
From this account, and the one in Matthew 10:1-42 we get great insight into our Lord’s sending of His disciples on their first mission without Him, no doubt an effort to prepare them for their Great Commission which would come on the heels of Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. In Mark 6:7 we see that this commission involved all 12 of Jesus’ disciples, whom He had assembled by name at the beginning of His ministry. The significance of 12 disciples, instead of say 10 or a baker’s dozen, cannot be overlooked. There are 12 disciples precisely because there were 12 tribes of Israel in the Old Testament. In this sense, Jesus is identifying the Israel of old with the establishment of His Church, true Israel. A fuller discussion on that is outside the scope of this post, but some additional passages might be helpful, see: Ephesians 2:19-22 and Matthew 16:18.
Returning to verse 7 from above we also see that they were sent out in 6 groups of 2 and that Jesus gave them authority over unclean spirits. In the prior chapters of Mark, Jesus’ power over disease, demons, and death is on display and here for their first commission, He grants the apostles that authority (Matthew 10:8 asserts the apostles authority over death) thereby fully equipping them for the work of ministry. An interesting side note, in Matthew’s parallel account, one that is much more detailed, we see the aforementioned transition of the disciples to apostles. In Matthew 10:1, we read, “Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness.” Not only do we see an addition in authority, over disease, but in the very next verse we read, “The names of the twelve apostles are these….” This may seem like a slight change at first, but it really emphasizes the point that Jesus’ intention for His disciples was not merely to make them learners, but for them to take what they had learned and share it with others; certainly a lesson for us today as well.
In verses 8-9 we find a list of instructions from Jesus on what the apostles could and could not bring on their mission. The positives were: staff, sandals, and tunic (with belt). The negatives were: bread, bag, money, an additional tunic. So Jesus was basically sending them out with the clothes on their back, no food, no money, no change of clothes. Simplicity and reliance on Christ was the key.
As we move to verse 10, Jesus provides for them instruction on their interactions with people/towns, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there.” We need also to pair this with Jesus’ statements in Matthew 10:5-6 to get a complete picture, “5 These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans,6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” From here we can now see Jesus’ instruction for the apostles was to focus their attention chiefly on “Jewish” towns and their strict forbiddance to enter Gentile towns or Samaritan towns (Samaritans would have been considered half Jew/half Gentile, thus the distinction). This is significant. Why then is it necessary to provide this restriction here? We will have to keep reading to verse 11 to get our answer, but first, a couple of questions arise from the statement in Mark on the duration of the apostles stay in a Jewish home. First, why would it be necessary for Jesus to say that they should stay at a house they enter until they depart from there? It’s a bit of a confusing sentence for us to understand in English. It might be easiest to understand this statement as saying “Whenever you enter a town and find a house to stay in, stay in that house, until it’s time for you to leave the town.” Which brings up a second question, what does this statement from Jesus mean? To understand this better, we may be able to gain insight from the Apostle Paul’s letter to Timothy. In 2 Timothy 3:6 we read, “For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions.” False teachers/prophets have always been a problem from the time of Satan in the Garden until now. The issue at the time of the Apostles was false teachers, motivated by money, who moved from house to house literally bilking it for all they could. In Paul’s warning to Timothy, we read of how those false teachers would especially prey on women. The instruction given by Jesus to His apostles to stay in the house they were in was in order to avoid the appearance or association with the false teachers who moved from house to house. In other words, they were to stay with their host family, not simply consume their food and supplies and then move on to the next house.
As we move to verse 11, “And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them”, we can gain more insight into our question from earlier on the Gentile/Samaritan restriction. The shaking off of dust from the feet is significant. It occurs also in Acts 13:51 and Acts 18:5-6. In each of these instances we see the “shaking off of the dust” done by the Apostle Paul in direct response to the Jewish rejection of the Gospel message. It was a customary sign in Jewish culture similar to our contemporary statement of “washing our hands” of something/someone. It most often equated that person or town as no better than pagans. It could very well be intended to mean a sign to the Jews that the Gospel has come to them, but because of its rejection by them, they will be left to judgment and the Gospel will go forth to the Gentiles (see Acts 18:5-6). Matthew 10:15 (and some translations of Mark based on the NU-text) adds the following condemnation, “Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.” Here we see another clue to the condemning action symbolic of shaking the dust off. The comparison to Sodom and Gomorrah (See Gen. 19:12-29) may indicate that because these Jews had heard the Gospel message of the apostles they were now held to a greater responsibility and their rejection would result in greater judgment.
These verses conclude the instructions from Jesus and we see a transition in verse 12 to the Apostle’s departure. Significant here is their message. They proclaimed to people the necessity of repentance, literally to turn from their sins to embrace by faith the good news of Jesus Christ. In verse 13 we are also given some insight into the results of their ministry, i.e. that they cast out demons and healed the sick, thus verifying the authority of Christ that had been given to them.
In Mark’s account of this commission we run into a parenthesis in verses 14-29 and pick up in verse 30 with the return of the apostles from their mission. “30 The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught.31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.32 And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.” Mark 6:30-32 These verses bring to a close the short-term mission trip of the apostles as they reported back to Jesus all they had done and go with Him to seek rest. As we have seen, this first commission of the Apostle’s is a significant event in understanding their “Great Commission” from Matthew 28:19-20. In a follow up post, I hope to provide a list of 12 concluding implications from observing this first commission which will help form the foundation of our fulfillment of the Great Commission.
Grace and Peace!